How to Help Protect Your Online Privacy

When it comes to protecting your privacy, take a close look at your social media use—because sharing can quickly turn into oversharing. 

The term “oversharing” carries several different definitions. Yet in our case here, oversharing means saying more than one should to more people than they should. Consider the audience you have across your social media profiles. Perhaps you have dozens, if not hundreds of friends and followers. All with various degrees of closeness and familiarity. Who among them can you absolutely trust with the information you share? 

And you might be sharing more than you think. Posts have a way of saying more than one thing, like: 

“This is the pool at the rental home I’m staying at this week. Amazing!” Which also tells everyone, “My home is empty for the next few days.” 

“I can’t start my workday without a visit to my favorite coffeeshop.” Which also says, “If you ever want to track me down in person, you can find me at this location practically any weekday morning.”  

One can quickly point to other examples of oversharing. Unintentional oversharing at that. 

A first-day-of-school picture can tell practical strangers which elementary school your children attend, say if the picture includes the school’s reader board in it. A snapshot of you joking around with a co-worker might reveal a glimpse of company information. Maybe because of what’s written on the whiteboard behind the two of you. And in one extreme example, there’s the case an assault on a pop star. Her attacker tracked her down through her selfie, determining her location through the reflection in her eyes 

The list goes on.  

That’s not to say “don’t post.” More accurately, it’s “consider what you’re posting and who gets to see it.” You have control over what you post, and to some degree, who gets to see those posts. That combination is key to your privacy—and the privacy of others too. 

Three simple steps for protecting your privacy on social media 

1) Be more selective with your settings

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and others give you the option of making your profile and posts visible to friends only. Choosing this setting keeps the broader internet from seeing what you’re doing, saying, and posting—not to mention your relationships and likes. Taking a “friends only” approach to your social media profiles can help protect your privacy, because that gives a possible scammer or stalker much less material to work with. Yet further, some platforms allow you to create sub-groups of friends and followers. With a quick review of your network, you can create a sub-group of your most trusted friends and restrict your posts to them as needed. 

2) Say “no” to strangers bearing friend requests

Be critical of the invitations you receive. Out-and-out strangers might be more than just a stranger. They might be a fake account designed to gather information on users for purposes of fraud. There are plenty of fake accounts too. In fact, in Q1 of 2023 alone, Facebook took action on 426 million fake accounts. Reject such requests. 

3) Consider what you post

Think about posting those vacation pictures after you get back so people don’t know you’re away when you’re away. Also consider if your post pinpoints where you are or where you go regularly. Do you want people in your broader network to know that? Closely review the pics you take and see if there’s any revealing information in the background. If so, you can crop it out (think notes on a whiteboard, reflections in a window, or revealing location info). Further, ask anyone you want to include in their post for their permission. In all, consider their privacy too. 

Further ways to make yourself more private online 

While we’re on the topic, you can take a few other steps that can make you more private online. In addition to your social media usage, other steps can help keep more of your private and personal information with you—where it belongs: 

  • Skip the online quizzes: Which superhero are you? “What’s your spooky Halloween name?” or “What’s your professional wrestler name?” You’ve probably seen quizzes like these crop up in your feed sometimes. Shadily, these quizzes might ask for the name of the street you grew up on, your birthdate, your favorite song, and maybe the name of a beloved first pet. Of course, these are pieces of personal information, sometimes the answer to commonly used security questions by banks and other financial institutions. (Like, what was the model of your first car?) With this info in hand, a hacker could attempt to gain access to your accounts. Needless to say, skip the quizzes.
  • Clean up your personal data trail: When was the last time you Googled yourself? The results might reveal all kinds of things, like your estimated income, the names and ages of your children, what you paid for your home, and, sometimes, your purchasing habits. Who’s collecting and posting this information about you? Online data brokers, which gather information from all manner of public records. Beyond that, they’ll also gather information from app developers, loyalty cards, and from other companies that track your web browsing. Data brokers will sell this info to anyone. Advertisers, background checkers, telemarketers, and scammers too. Data brokers don’t discriminate. Yet you can clean up that information with a Personal Data Cleanup like ours. It scans some of the riskiest data broker sites for your personal info and helps manage the removal for you.
  • Spend time online more privately with a VPN: A VPN creates an encrypted “tunnel” that shields your activity from cybercriminals so what you do online remains anonymous.​ It helps make you anonymous to advertisers and other trackers too. By encrypting your web traffic requests, a VPN can hide your search habits and history from those that might use that info as part of building a profile of you—whether that’s for targeted ads or data collection that they might sell to brokers for profit. Comprehensive online protection software like ours includes one. 

More privacy partly comes down to you 

Granted, “social” is arguably the opposite of “private.” Using social media involves sharing, by its very definition. Yet any oversharing can lead to privacy issues.  

Maybe you want close friends to know what’s going on, but what about that so-so acquaintance deep in your friends list? How well do you really know them? And to what extent do you want them to know exacting details about where you are, where your kids go to school, and so on? Those are questions you ultimately must answer, and ultimately have some control over depending on what you share on social media. 

Also important to consider is this: if you post anything on the internet, consider it front page news. Even with social media privacy settings in place, there’s no guarantee that someone won’t copy your posts or pics and pass them along to others. 

The flipside to the topic of social media and privacy is the platform you’re using. It’s no secret that social media companies gather hosts of personal information about their users in exchange for free use of their platforms. Certainly, that’s a topic unto itself. We cover what social media companies know about you in this article here—along with a few steps that can help you limit what they know as well. 

When it comes to your privacy and social media, it depends largely on how you use it. How you use various privacy and audience settings offers one way to manage it. The other is you and the information you put out there for others to see. 

Introducing McAfee+

Identity theft protection and privacy for your digital life

FacebookLinkedInTwitterEmailCopy Link

Stay Updated

Follow us to stay updated on all things McAfee and on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats.


More from Privacy & Identity Protection

Back to top